How to Deal
Can Employers Fire Temporarily Disabled Workers?
Thursday, November 8, 2007; 12:00 AM
I was just approved for long-term disability. I had a stroke and am now working four hours a day as directed by my doctor. Can my employer fire me for not being able to work full time? My supervisor keeps asking when I will return to work full time. I feel like I am being pressured into this. If I quit or get fired will I still be able to get long-term disability?
Long-term disability is an employee benefit that you receive under the terms of your employer's policy. Most employers offering this benefit will establish a policy that requires employees to return to work within two to four years. After this timeframe, however, they reserve the right to terminate your employment and benefits. It is not illegal for them to do this.
You may be protected from getting fired, however, under the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you need this four-hour work day restriction for a specific period, ask your medical practitioner to complete FMLA paperwork for you. Assuming that you are eligible for FMLA (based on the number of hours you worked in the past year and the nature of your condition), your employer will not be able to fire you for not working full time. The FMLA protection will continue until you have used up the twelve weeks of annual FMLA leave. And if you are being made to "take leave" for the remaining four hours of the work day that you are not there, the annual FMLA leave increases to 24 weeks.
Under the ADA, meanwhile, your employer is required to offer a reasonable accommodation of a disability. This means that they need to accommodate the needs of the disabled employee, unless doing so would impose an "undue hardship" on the business. The ADA's definition of a disability does encompass serious stroke. If you haven't done so already, make it clear to your employer that the four-hour work day restriction is a request for an accommodation of a disability (in your case, as the result of having had a stroke) under the ADA. It's likely that your HR department has already flagged you as an ADA case, but be sure to reconfirm this information.
It is reasonable for your supervisor to inquire about your plans for returning to work full time, as long as it doesn't evolve into harassment or intimidation. Answer your supervisor's questions to the best of your ability. And keep in mind that "I don't know" is a perfectly acceptable answer. If this doesn't seem to satisfy your manager, ask your HR department for assistance.
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Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail email@example.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.